Friday, October 25, 2013

A Royal Outing

Updated: added a picture of me in my blue dress.

My colleagues photoshopped this picture of them. Take a close look at the one on the far right.
Aren't they a hoot and a half?

When one is invited to dine with royalty, one is obliged to speak in the third person, it is said.  Or the passive voice.

Stop. I can't do it. I simply can't. I will write the remainder of this post in the usual first-person active voice.

Now that I've got that out of the way, I can start telling you about the gala dinner I attended last night, whose guest of honour was none other than the Princess Royal, Princess Anne. Her Royal Highness. (Or, as some have said -- but I won't -- Her Royal Horsiness. She is an avid equestrian and actually competed in the Olympics.)

Steve is a member of the communications branch of the Canadian air force. In fact, he has a role of "chief advisor" to the branch commander. As any soldier, sailor or airman knows, this kind of duty is a thankless task: it's added on to your "day job" and generally adds to the length of your work day as well as, in this case, the need to travel. (Which explains our many, many trips to Kingston in the past three years. I'm not complaining; we love Kingston.)

This year happens to be the 110th anniversary of the branch's founding. And Princess Anne happens to be the branch's colonel in chief. It's an honourary role, but it is one that she takes quite seriously, as she apparently does all of her many such roles, of which there are some 320. She is known in England as the hardest-working royal.

About a year ago, the branch invited the princess to attend a celebration; she accepted. Unluckily for her, it coincided with the christening of her beautiful great-nephew, Prince George. Despite the big family event, she honoured her commitment and came to Canada where she will perform a week's worth of duties.

One of these duties was a gala dinner, to which Steve (and I) were invited. I put the "and I" in parentheses because I alone would not have been invited. It was an invitation-only event for a small 180-person dinner.

In case you wondered, there are plenty of Canadians who get their panties in a twist if they are thwarted from spending time in the company of a member of the royal family. Apparently, one woman had gone to the trouble of losing 40 pounds in order to impress Her Royal Highness, only to have failed to be included on the invitation list. Poor thing. I hope she doesn't lose faith and gain back all the weight!

That is a dreadfully long preamble to this post, which is all about our very peripheral date with Princess Anne.

Note: all photos were taken with my iPhone, so they aren't great quality.


The first thing for me to do, of course, was to select a dress. The invitation specified "cocktail," which is clear enough to me (e.g., fancy, but not ball gown), but there were several women who showed up in full-length gowns and that's just fine.

I've gained weight (again) and did not enjoy shopping for a dress, but found a blue lace dress with a modest neckline and 3/4-length sleeves. Then I splurged and bought some topaz jewelery to match the dress.

I should have had my roots touched up, but I didn't. Instead, I put my hair in rollers the night before so that I would look suitably festive.
Also: new glasses
To prevent the curls from wilting with my hot flashes, I piled them atop my head. It worked.

Steve's preparation, of course, was much more elaborate as he's spent months managing the days-long event. It involved lots of meetings and decisions and is far less fun than pretty hair.

Obligatory bathroom selfie. Unfortunately, you can't see any of my new bijoux.
I wore my hair down about half the time.


Steve had been in Kingston since Monday, and the gala was on Thursday, so I took the train down. (Always a treat!) We stayed at a bed & breakfast in Kingston, near the Queen's University campus. Our room was absolutely beautiful.
The photo was taken this morning.

The sun from those leaded windows cast beautiful rainbows around the room.
I don't always take pictures of bathrooms, but when I do . . .
(I covet that arch over the lavatory.)


Before we were allowed into the banquet hall with the princess, we received a protocol briefing. It included instructions on how to address her ("Your Royal Highness" the first time, then "Ma'am" thereafter), that we should not initiate a handshake, but should bow or curtsey, and that we should not sit in our chairs until she took hers. Likewise, when she rose to leave, we should all stand.

Not too difficult, really, though another woman and I joked about talking to the princess about menopause and hot flashes. What could possibly go wrong?

I decided that the best bet was to keep my distance and hold my tongue. (I have been known to utter words that I later regret. Those words keep me awake at night.)

The Princess

I've heard it said that Queen Elizabeth II refuses to change her hairstyle because she feels it is part of what makes her recognizable. Evidently, Princess Anne ascribes to the same belief. She wears a "Gibson Girl" bouffant hairdo that does not seem to have changed since she was a young woman. It may, in fact, be a wig! Smart woman.
I would make a dreadful paparazzo: I'm too shy to get close.

It is a hairstyle I've worn myself. Often.
Her outfit was beautiful. If the Duchess of Cambridge had worn it, there would have been a run on tapestry coats in burgundy with ornamental ruffs around the collar and down the front. Sadly, Princess Anne was not graced with a photogenic profile. Perhaps it's not so sad, actually. Our culture hounds those with physical beauty in such a rapacious way that her "plainness" may have been a saving grace, after all.

She gave a brief speech after dinner and dessert. Although it likely was written by one of her staff, she clearly knew what she was talking about and improvised appropriately. She was witty at times, but mostly serious. Her voice is quite nice -- not the high-pitched tone that we are accustomed to hearing from Queen Elizabeth.

Dinner is Served

The dining room was elegantly appointed, but not over the top. I'm not sure why (space?), but the gala was held at a local hotel, rather than in the Officers' Mess on base or at the Royal Military College.
Draped ceiling and crystal chandeliers

There was a complete seating chart, of course. The princess sat at a "head table" that was placed quite centrally in the room, so everyone was able to  catch glimpses of her.
A small typo on Stephen's place card.
Elegant, but not fussy.
When I told Emily that I would be dining with a "real" princess, she laughed because one of the ways I had always encouraged the kids to use good table manners was that they should pretend they were dining with the Queen. Sometimes I would put on a fake high-pitched voice and pretend I was the queen.

So this just proves: YOU NEVER KNOW! It could happen!

Our table of ten included several "honourary colonels" as well as the princess' body guard from Scotland Yard, a handsome man who had been carefully chosen for his role. He spoke admiringly of her. After she spoke and returned to her seat, he commented that he needed to watch her closely: when she was ready to leave, she would do so quite quickly, and he needed to be ready.

Sure enough, about fifteen minutes later, I noticed that she had placed her clutch purse under her arm, a sign that she was getting ready. I pointed it out to him and he said (kindly -- what was I thinking? That he hadn't noticed?) that he was aware.

The meal itself was delicious, but not heavy.

That concludes my tale. Today, Steve continues with his official duties, while I have been lounging at the B&B, enjoying not being a princess, but merely being pampered as if I were one.


  1. Oh my goodness the blue of that dress - fantastic! And I loved your hair, too. Wanted to see new jewellery close up, though. Possible? Oh, and BTW: there is nothing "mere" about being papmered!

    1. Pictures will come soon. The jewellery is modest it classic.

      (I keep forgetting about the "reply" option on here!)

  2. Thank you! The blue happens to be one of the colours that Katie has "pinned" for her some-day wedding. So if I don't change size and styles don't change dramatically and if she actually does get married and choose that colour, then I'm all set! If nothing else, she could wear some of the jewellery as her "something blue."

  3. Coolest thing ever. I love it.


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